Citadel’s artistic director Daryl Cloran brings a modern story to Edmonton
Roughly 12 years ago, Daryl Cloran, who at the time was a part of a theatre collective in Toronto, brought a group of Canadian actors to South Africa to put together a play with a group of South African actors. Through a heap of different languages, experiences, and methods, Ubuntu (The Cape Town Project) was born.
“It was built by that cross-cultural encounter of Canadians and South Africans; finding our similarities, and differences, and connections,” Cloran says.
The play has seen many different Canadian stages since running in Cape Town, though never the Citadel’s. As Cloran’s first formal year as the man in charge, he is bringing the performance back to life to show Edmonton the art he loves and a project that has endured 12 years of hard work.
Two original South African actors are joining the Edmonton production, along with three Canadians, two of which have played roles in various iterations in the past.
Originally written by a group of roughly seven over a period of three years, the story follows a young South African man, Jabba (Andile Nebulane) searching for his unknown father, Philani (Mbulelo Grootbroom) on a separate continent.
“Of course it speaks directly and quickly to the South African community, but lots of other people that have lived immigrant experience, or have that in their family, can quickly identify that as being their story as well,” Cloran says.
This cultural cocktail is something that echoes not only in Canada, but also in South Africa where nine official languages and subsequent cultures are recognized.
Nebulane sees it reaching even further.
“The story itself is very universal,” he says. “You can put it in China, you can put it in Italy, you can put it in Namibia.”
He finds the anecdotal lessons entwined are something everyone can relate to.
“It speaks volume on truth,” Nebulane says. “On the importance of truth and the importance of sharing, the importance of reaching out to your loved ones.”
Cloran continues bringing more international works and actors to the Citadel, incorporating a framework he’s laid out as inclusive, innovative and international.
He says there’s a lot to be learned from working with actors of disparate backgrounds. The way the Canadian actors approached theatre was in stark contrast to the way the South African actors went about creating and building the narrative.
“In rehearsal I would often say, ‘Okay, today we’re going to work on creating this scene.’ And like inevitably, the Canadian actors would all take out their pens and paper and start to write the scene, and the South African actors would all jump up and start to move and dance,” Cloran laughs.
These distinct differences are part of what makes the play so special.
Andile Nebulane says the process of creating the play from his own lived experiences connected him to his character, Jabba right from the beginning in 2005.
“It just makes it so real and brings it closer to the heart when it’s created,” he says. “You know exactly where your core actor is coming from with a story that he or she is putting on the table as you brainstorm.”
He also connects to his character’s search to know his father, having lost his own parents at a very young age.
“You can’t hide away from your ancestors. They will always find you,” he says. “Doesn’t matter how far apart is the connection, but if need be, that thing that brings you together will bring you together one day, somehow.”
Rich South African traditions like the role of Sangomas (traditional healers) are brought to the stage with every performance along with cultural elements like gumboot dancing and the Xhosa language, which are woven into the very fabric of the narrative.
Something unique to this iteration is its redesign for a thrust stage. In the past, the play was performed on a proscenium setup, but Cloran says he’s eager to show the play in the Maclab Theatre, which lends itself to the more intimate setting of Ubuntu by sitting the audience closer to the action.
David Jansen, who plays Michael, notes that with the thrust stage, your fellow audience members are also in your eyeline, which makes it more of a joint experience, like sitting around a fire. Something he says is at the heart of the Xhosa word “Ubuntu,” which translates as “who I am is intimately woven with everyone else around me; everyone else around me makes me who I am,” he says.
“It’s thematically, really resonant for us this season in particular,” Cloran says. “I’ve tried to make this season very much about inclusivity and our connections to each other. So, to have this at the heart of it, it’s perfect.”
Having run in Toronto, Halifax, Vancouver and Calgary, the ability to bring the play to Edmonton for a quick 11 days and Winnipeg after is important, Jansen says. “It’s really developed into this piece that’s had a history and now been seen by a lot of people across Canada. It’s really had a life, and I mean, that’s rare in Canadian theatre, but it’s something to celebrate.”
Wed., Oct. 11 – Sun., Oct 22
Ubuntu (The Cape Town Project)